My Edmonds News introduces new comment policy: full name required

As of today, My Edmonds News is changing its policy on who can comment on stories. We are requiring that everyone use their real identity — first and last name. Anyone who doesn’t follow this requirement will have their comments removed.

We are making this change because it doesn’t seem fair that some people are able to say whatever they want and no one knows who they really are. And it seems to us that this type of commenting is only going to get worse as we get closer to the local election for several of our city councilmembers and the mayor, which occurs in November.

While this policy will not prevent readers from making false claims or providing misinformation, it will give those reading the comments a change to judge that claim or information based on the source.

Enforcing this policy is going to take work, but we believe it’s important to do so. We’ve been advised by other online publishers not to go into detail about how to research names that we suspect to be false, to ensure the integrity of the process. We also hope that our own readers will assist us in policing the real identities of those on the site. If you suspect someone is not a real person, please let us know.

In fairness, we are applying this policy to our longtime readers who have commented in the past. We ask that you re-register using your full name.

While we can never guarantee that we will be able to verify the identity of every person who comments here, we will do our best to enforce the policy. We believe the result will be a more trusting environment that promotes the value of sincere dialogue about what is best for our community, and reinforces the mission of My Edmonds News: to be an online gathering place for neighbors and friends.

Sincerely

Teresa Wippel
Publisher

If you like what you are reading, please consider a weekly, monthly or one-time voluntary donation of any amount to support our work. You can donate via this link.

26 Comments

  1. Very good, Teresa!

  2. Teresa – I’m impressed with your commitment. That’s why this news site is so valuable: your focus on making it an open, yet civil, forum.

  3. Well done, Teresa!

  4. Thank you for making this change, Teresa; it is the right thing to do for all of the reasons that you’ve mentioned.

  5. Although I respectfully disagree, I will not be posting here any longer.

    It is my belief that the requirement will have a chilling effect on the discussions.
    Freedom of speech, is important and posting here is not and has never been anonymous (you had to register). There is a fine balance between freedom of speech, and censorship.
    The last name doesn’t identify one’s bias at all. Many who post sit on committees at the City, some are running for office and they are not required to disclose that (even our Councilpersons do not generally use there name and Council positions). City employees who happen to be residents might not want to post for fear of retaliation by the City.
    There are voices to be heard that won’t be.
    Thanks Teresa for the blog, good luck with it as it goes on.
    Remove me.

    • Diane – sorry to see you go as I believe strongly you are an important voice. But I believe with an equally strong conviction this is the right thing to do. If anyone has legitimate concerns/complaints or other information that they prefer not to be made public and/or associated with a name, I am happy to take those types of anonymous tips privately – send them to teresa@myedmondsnews.com.

  6. I agree with diane. The reason I wasn’t using my last name was because there are so many freaks out there who knows what might happen if you post something they don’t like or agree with, Ive said it before and Ill say it again it doesn’t make any differance what your last name is, I go on the radio and talk sports they don’t ask for my last name

  7. While I agree in general with the real name policy, I am very disappointed that Diane T will not be posting. DT is a real person, I have met her and understand why she does not wish to identify her last name. She is very articulate and her voice needs to be part of the process. Maybe there is a way have DT register with MEN in a way that would allow her to continue to post. DT your voice is needed!!!

  8. I also agree with Diane T and will miss her voice here. There are many legitimate reasons that people choose not to use their real names. I have found the comments here to be remarkably civil, regardless of whether a real name is given. As often as not, the least civil comments (with ad hominum attacks) come from well-known people using their real names. But as much as I dislike ad hominum attacks, I’m willing to listen to those because it means more voices will be heard.

    Perhaps the elimination of anonymity will make it more civl here, but it will also be a lot less interesting. I’ll probably be spending less time here. I think those anonymous voices will find a place to be heard, and I’ll be watching for them. I think that what’s being said is way more important than who is saying it.

  9. Hey Teresa – here’s an idea for you to consider:

    Have a checkbox setting (saved in cookie) that determines whether you can see messages posted by anonymous users. It could default to not showing anonymous messages, so seeing them would be an opt-in thing. The anonymous voices would have a smaller audience, so there would still be plenty of motivation for people to use real names. But they’d still be heard.

    Maybe your blog software doesn’t support doing that, but you could always request that such a feature be added.

  10. Diane T, your comments will be missed. I have gleaned a lot of information from everyone who has posted on this site whether I’ve known you or not or even if I disagree or agree with you all. To those who are leaving, I know you will find another place to post. I look forward to finding those places.

  11. Joe – interesting idea about a checkbox setting. I’m not sure if that’s possible but I wanted to run another idea by the group. I’ve met Diane T., she’s come to meetings with Citizen Harry and she herself acknowledges that many people know her last name – she just doesn’t use it here. So in the interest of ensuring that her voice — which folks agree is valuable to the community — is heard, what would people think of grandfathering her in to the list of commenters – if she is willing?

  12. Teresa
    Sounds like a good solution.

  13. Teresa – I have to disagree with grandfathering anybody in under old rules – especially one person only. There are a lot of anonymous people who have contributed thoughtful & reasoned comments in addition to Diane T. (some cranks too) & they may want the same treatment. I feel everyone should play play from the same book.

  14. I would hope Diane T accepts to offer and stays tuned in. We can all learn from her often well reasoned ideas.

  15. I have an idea. Diane T, Just email your responses to me and I will post them with my full name showing they came from you. Something like: The following came from Diane T and she has asked me to post. That way we have a work around that does not break any rules or create grandfathering. Let’s think of ways to advance this communication medium. Who knows, we can even make a difference.

    This whole thing is a way to increase the voices around town. Sure it is some of the same people but there are people who “speak” here that do not do the 3 minute mic deal at Council. At the recent Council Retreat last Fri and Sat. There we less than a hand full of folks watching and commenting. Too bad. This Retreat was one of the most positive events for our town I have seen in reccent years. The discussion among the coucil, mayor, staff and the public was very helpful for the life of our town.

    As we move forward to an intellegent discussion of Levies and how we fund our town ans how do we decide what we want for a strategic plan and direction, it is hope we get more and more and more voices, words, and input to the process.

    Rules are rules and voices are voices, let just find way to ALL make a difference.

  16. Ill tell you what I think happened myself and a few other people were not using are last names, Ive already stated my reasons, I think there are people that complained about it.I think that I conducted myself in a professional manner and expressed my views, I think Dianne T has done also, so if anybody knows why a last name is so important I would be interested in the answer

    • Mike:
      There was no one person or complaint that caused this policy. It was a growing feeling on my part, after seeing people stick their necks out to express their opinions, using their real names, that is was the right thing to do. Howard Owens, a colleague who runs an online news site in upstate New York — TheBatavian.com — made this same decision a while ago and I’ve communicated with him about his reasoning. I’ve copied an article he wrote to explain his thoughts below. (It’s long but I think it’s worth including all of it.)

      By Howard Owens
      If you run a online news site, you should allow users to comment on posts. And if you allow comments, you should require users to register with their real names.

      Why?

      It starts with basic news ethics: Readers have a right to know who is saying what.

      Newspapers long ago stopped allowing anonymous letters to the editor. Ethical editorial page directors go to great lengths to ensure the author of a letter is who he says he is. There is no small measure of credibility tied to using your real name when expressing an opinion or stating what you believe to be facts.

      Newspapers also have established policies on anonymous sources. Setting aside for a minute that some papers don’t follow their own anonymous source policies, the best policies require some verification by a trusted reporter or editor of the true identify of the source, some vetting of the source’s motivation, and ensuring the source is used primarily to provide facts, not opinion.

      The argument is at times made that since newspapers allow anonymous sources, online news organizations should allow anonymous comments. The logic doesn’t follow, however, because anonymous comments come from unvetted sources — there is no examination of their motivations or conflicts of interest, nor any idea if the person is even remotely who he represents himself to be even in anonymity. In most news environments, anonymous comments go live without any verification as to their news value or truthfulness. No ethical news editor would allow such unfiltered information to flow freely into printed news columns. Why is it OK on the Web?

      Real names may not prevent people from spewing misinformation and defamatory bile, but at least if readers trust that the person making such assertions is using a real name, they can judge it accordingly, or fact check the source themselves.

      A situation came up recently at Cleveland.com where a judge allegedly/seemingly (she denies it) used a psudonymous name to comment on cases that had come before her court room. If there had been a real name policy in place and enforced at Cleveland.com, there never would have been an issue about revealing her identity, which clearly the public had a right to know.

      Newspapers set themselves up for a horrendous ethical dilemma when they create a situation whereby public officials, who have obvious conflicts of interests, can support their own agenda, or oppose another’s, through anonymous, unfiltered and unvetted commenting. The public, for example, has a right to know if the person pushing cuts to local bus routes is the politician who wrote the legislation or just some well informed citizen.

      As another example, if the mayor is promoting a zoning change downtown, and a persistent commenter keeps arguing against it, the mayor has a right to know if that is a future electoral opponent or the local competing developer who stands to lose by the change. And so do the readers.

      It is sometimes suggested that rather than require real names, persistent identity should be required, or pseudonyms.

      There are two problems with this suggestion.

      First, it doesn’t solve the exceptionally important ethical issue of the readers right to know who is saying what; second, it’s too easy for sock puppets to promote an agenda using multiple identities.

      There are some who seem to assume that the whole issue of comments and identity have to do with avoiding racist hate speech, nastiness, vile flame wars and the like. While a real name policy can help in this regard, that is not the primary reason for requiring real names (again, it’s primarily about ethics).

      At The Batavian, we’ve banned two people who we know were using their real names. People can still be jerks even when their name is attached to their comments. Real names might tap down some of the vileness, but it doesn’t eliminate it.

      But if you have a real name policy — and this is the key point in using identity to police comments — it makes it much harder for the bad actors to re-register under a different name.

      In a policy that requires only pseudonymity or persistent identity, if you kick Julie123 off your site on Tuesday, by Thursday, she can be Becky123 and you’re none the wiser.

      Which brings us to enforcement of a real names policy.

      Frankly, I will not reveal all of my secrets in a public way of how I catch fake names. I don’t want to educate those who might chose to subvert my policy on The Batavian. I would be happy to discuss this in detail with any news organization on a non-disclosure basis if requested.

      But first and foremost, the vast majority of people who would seek to comment without their real names do so in very obvious ways. The guy who registered with “Not Me” is obviously faking it. Even if the person uses a plausible sounding name, such as Richard Montadello, will leave other inconsistencies in his registration to raise suspicion.

      I approach a real name policy as a “best effort” practice. If you can get past my radar with your registration and get approved, the next test is your behavior.

      Trollish comments, repeatedly making statements that the average person would find embarrassing to be associated with, will likely mean that further investigation into your identity is required. When such comments come from a recently registered person, the yellow alert goes to red pretty quickly.

      At which point, I check public databases for names that match in the zip code provided. If no match, the user is asked to provide either by fax, e-mail or in person a copy of a picture ID.

      But the best police of real identity are other registered users, members of the community.

      We had a gentleman who got away with a fake name for about six months. He claimed to be a small business owner employing 50 people in factory jobs. For a small business owner in a small local community, his attitudes about supporting local business (or not supporting it, as the case may be) were pretty strange. One day one of my advertisers said to me, “Who is this guy? I’ve asked all my friends, and nobody knows who he is.” So I checked with the chamber of commerce and the economic development office (where a man who employed 50 people in an industrial capacity would surely be known) and nobody had ever heard of him. He was banned, but not before he sent me a nasty e-mail refusing to reveal his true identity.

      But because his comments were always on business-related issues, and he seemed so well informed, if not a little out of step with the local business community, don’t you think the other business owners had a right to know who he was? I think so.

      I make no promise that every person who comments on The Batavian is using a real name, but I do promise a best effort to enforce that policy and that people who violate the policy will be banned. That’s the best I can do and for the most part, and our users seemed satisfied with this “best effort” approach.

      And it’s clear that users care very much about our real name policy.

      They care because it helps create a more trusting environment. They care because it helps promote community (I know who you are and you know who I am, so its more social, fun and rewarding to participate with you — one of the same key features that makes Facebook successful). They care because they appreciate that on The Batavian, for the most part, we can discuss local issues as mature adults (it still does get out of hand some times, but we get better all the time at keeping a lid on nasty arguments).

      As I alluded to before, a real name policy will not magically make an online community a more civil environment. If community managers are not taking ownership of the community — which is a matter of both policing and participating (weed, seed and feed, is the old community managers motto), then no imposed policy is going to work. Online community is not a set-it-and-forget it proposition. It is labor intensive and requires dedication.

      A couple of closing points.

      – I’m not against anonymity on the Web. In certain forums — say one dedicated to victims of child abuse — it is absolutely necessary. Also, there is nothing wrong with an individual setting up an anonymous blog. If the market place embraces his anonymity and finds what he has to say valuable, bully for him. My advocacy for real names deals strictly with a professional news organization environment where ethics should be a hallmark of a credible news organization.

      When you put it in those terms, all of the arguments about how the Federalists Papers were written anonymously (even if the argument isn’t entirely historically accurate) become pretty moot. We’re not talking treatises to change the fate of a nation here, but information and commentary shared under the banner of a legitimate news organization.

      – A real name policy, contrary to what some say, will not prevent anonymous news tips or scare off the whistleblower. At The Batavian, we get anonymous news tips all the time. They just don’t come through comments. This argument against real names is a pure straw man.

      As a closing emphasis: I strongly believe that news organizations that allow anonymous comments are committing a grievous ethical blunder. There is no justification or excuse for it. They are tarnishing their brand and credibility at a time they can least afford to devalue either.

  17. There is no controversy here, folks. I totally agree with those who are arguing that the rules are the rules. It apply to all or to none. I did not seek to be “grandfathered in” it was offered to me and I am perplexed by the offer.
    I am only posting to end any controversy at all. My own commitment to free speech is not something upon which I will not compromise. I respect Ms. Whipple’s right to make rules for her publication. I am, therefore, removing myself.

  18. My own commitment to free speech is not something about which I will compromise. Sorry about the typos.

  19. Diane T has made My Edmonds News a better place. Just look at her contribution to the News by pasting the links below into your browser

    http://myedmondsnews.com/2010/11/all-smiles-for-an-edmonds-snow-day/#axzz1DOXt05Vd

    http://myedmondsnews.com/2010/12/all-aboard-the-pineapple-express-edmonds-style/#axzz1DOdkM62R

  20. Teresa Thats fine But let me ask you this,Do you think people are going to tell how they “really feel” about “hot and contervsonal” topics when they have disclose there idenity I think you find that people will stay more in the middle of the road and if they have something really negitive to say they just won’t comment, but maybe not some of these comments get out there pretty good

  21. Please allow me to link to an article in favor of anonymous comments. It is written by Doug Feaver, a former executive editor of washingtonpost.com:

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/04/08/AR2009040803248.html

    In this article he quotes Oscar WIlde: “Man is least in himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.”

    The Howard Owens article was well written, but one thing bothered me. He repeatedly speaks of the read’s “right to know”. He’s entitled to that opinion, but I wish he wouldn’t state it as a fact, especially when there a genuine constitutional right that contradicts his opinion. The First Amendment protects our right to anonymity:

    http://www.eff.org/issues/anonymity

    This right does not override Teresa’s right (as a publisher) to require real names. Although I disagree with her decision, I respect it.

  22. Howard Owens certainly said it all; in more ways than one! To me it is clear that there are more reasons for requiring full names than there are valid reasons for allowing anonymous postings.

    As to the last comment by Mike, I have not noticed a shortage of very frank comments by people using their full names.

  23. Ron no big deal it wasn’t just you other people made comments about last names, Im not a city employee but I think they do a good job. As far as addresses at council meetings Ive noticed that and I spoke once I think this paper is a better format though, It seems like people get up and say the same thing over and over, My personal feeling is that it should be more of a question information format with questions directed to the city mayor and attorney sometimes that happens but I think it would be more productive

  24. Ron Im talking about asking a question to the mayor or the attorney and then getting an answer that same night sometimes they do that and thats good, but most of the time people just make statements now who knows the most up there probably the mayor or the city attorney, I had this exact same problem when my mom died everybody wanted to talk Hey ask the question and let the doctor talk he is a doctor he knows the answer. I don’t know anything about the citys books Ive been told they get an audit everyyear and pass, Thats Mr Hindes department

Leave a Reply